Guarneri Underground,
Wander This World
(Twisted Fiddle, 2002)

The world is not the only thing Guarneri Underground's music wanders through. Wander This World is a genre-busting mix of jazz, rock, reggae, and world fusion, to say nothing of yodeling.

Eclectic is right. On what other CD could you find Celtic fiddling, flamenco guitar, African rhythms, tabla and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir"? Wander This World is nothing if not innovative, experimental and energetic. Easy listening it isn't, however; the 11 tracks can be jarringly different from each other, and main vocalist Beth Quist's four-octave voice, at the higher end of her range and during a prolonged yodel, might be aptly described as siren-like -- and not of the mythical variety, either. As I cleverly discovered through personal experience, this is not quite the right album with which to nurse an incipient headache. However, if you're looking for something different to jam along with on a long summer drive, this may just hit the spot.

The CD opens with three of its least compelling tracks by and featuring Quist: the vaguely Celtic and new-agey "Liquid Silver" and the two noisier rock tracks, "Monsters" and "Crazy." Quist's range is impressive, and the lyrics (what can be made out of them) seem interesting, but her vocals come across as affected and occasionally shrill. Wander This World really picks up with the fourth track, the loose-limbed, reggae-influenced "Life is Full of Surprises." It's perfect driving music to sing along with in the privacy of your own car.

Each of the subsequent tracks is highly distinct from any other. "Tarot" is an interesting spoken word story, "Pami Music" features easygoing African rhythms and "Galapagos" is best described as world fusion jazz with its incorporation of flamenco guitar and violin. "Om Asatoma Sad Gamaya" probably best sums up Guarneri Underground's sound, starting off with a distinctly Indian sound and gradually acquiring western percussion, English lyrics and hammered dulcimer and violin. Not having heard the original, I can't comment on the cover of "Kashmir," but it ends the CD with yet more of Quist's yodeling.

I have nothing against yodeling, honestly. It's just not something I would choose to listen to voluntarily. Quist's clear voice can be lovely, but it works best on pieces like the wordless "Galapagos" where it isn't overpowering and stylistically pretentious. Lyrics on the CD, where intelligible, are generally interesting (except in "Pami Music," which has lines like, "We don't need no missiles / Give peace a chance") though are not included in the attractive but essentially uninformative liner notes. Once past the first three tracks (and it is hard not to wonder why they were lumped together at the beginning where they do the disc no favors), Wander This World is a mostly enjoyable and unique set of songs that may not need an itinerary, but would have benefited from a bit more cohesion.

Oh well. As they say, life is full of surprises, and Guarneri Underground offers slightly more good ones than it does bad.

by Jennifer Mo
20 January 2007

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